Facebook is “optimistic” to attract more people online despite close scrutiny

Facebook has been working on different ways to expand broadband internet access.

James Martin / CNET

A day after Facebook experienced a massive breakdown, social network executives and engineers met via video to discuss the company’s efforts to bring more people online.

The impact of the six-hour blackout has not escaped the notice of Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer. People couldn’t message family and friends, and businesses couldn’t promote their products.

“It’s a good reminder of the importance of the work we do today, of how the thing we all take for granted – reliable high-speed internet access, which connects us to people around the world – is something that billions of people around the world are missing, ”he said.

On Thursday, Facebook announced that since 2013 the company connectivity efforts have improved faster Internet access for over 300 million people. The company has been working on various ways to extend internet access to the next billion, using robots for installing fiber cables on power lines, fixing submarine cables connect Europe and the United States and deploy a wireless technology called Terragraph in remote areas.

All of these projects underscore how Facebook plans to play an even bigger role in the world, even as it faces more scrutiny from the government. This week, the former Facebook product manager and whistleblower Francoise Haugen accused the company of putting its profits ahead of the safety of its users in testimony before Congress. Haugen gathered internal company research, some of which the Wall Street Journal used to publish a series of articles on how the company knew about the damage its platform was doing, but is playing down those issues publicly. Facebook says its internal research is misinterpreted and cares about user safety.

Facebook’s connectivity efforts could also benefit the social network. If the company can get more people online, it can also increase the number of users in developing countries and remote areas. The growth in the number of Facebook users, however, has resulted in more content moderation issues. The Wall Street Journal reported that employees have raised concerns about how the platform is being used in developing countries by drug cartels and human traffickers. The social network’s response was “inadequate”, according to The Journal.

Schroepfer said he was always “optimistic” about internet access as a basic human right in the world, and that there is an entirely separate set of issues with moderation of content. The company, he said, is investing not only in moderation of content, but also in technical systems that work in multiple languages.

Facebook’s efforts to expand internet access have also seen setbacks over the years. Last year, Oregon residents expressed their anger after Facebook dumped broken equipment and thousands of gallons of drilling fluid under the seabed as part of an undersea cable project. The company in 2018 quietly abandoned construction plans solar powered drones to transmit the Internet to remote areas.

In 2016, India banned The basic free Facebook app Due to concerns, it favored some internet services, including social network, over others. Facebook then opened Free Basics to developers so they could add more websites to the app.

Dan Rabinovitsj, Facebook’s vice president of connectivity, said the company learned from its inception and that the intention of the social network was not to create an organized or controlled version of the Internet.

“The result of this work will be, you know, good for Facebook, but it’s been good for anyone who owns digital property,” he said.


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